Paul Dano: 'I'm Just a Glutton For Punishment'
As indie-film pairings go, The Good Heart's reunion of Brian Cox and Paul Dano is a fairly provocative one. A decade after their collaboration in the controversial L.I.E. -- featuring 15-year-old Dano as a disaffected young man who befriends Cox's pedophile Big John Harrigan -- the duo teams again in the tale of gruff bar owner Jacques (Cox) and his accidental protégé Lucas (Dano). They meet in the hospital where Jacques convalesces after his umpteenth heart attack and Lucas recovers from an attempted suicide. As the older man's health deteriorates, Lucas's applies his sensitivity to opening both the bar and its proprietor to a more inclusive manner of existence. Under Icelandic director Dagur Kári (making his American feature debut), Dano and Cox mount funny, bittersweet pas de deux around the clash of new and old, kind and coarse, and a New York City lost and found.
In advance of this Friday's limited release, Dano and Kári sat down with Movieline to discuss the young actor's penchant for holding his own against the greats, why fatherhood scares him, the pair's gritty, fantastic NYC, and Dano forthcoming (if secretive) collaboration with Tom Cruise.
So how did you two meet?
PD: I got a script in the mail. I read it, liked it, then saw Dagur's films and really liked those a lot. And then we hung out when he was in town. And that was pretty much it.
Of course you and Brian had worked together previously in a pretty high-profile pairing. How did that inform your decision to take this part, if at all?
PD: Brian actually was not yet involved with the film when I became involved with it. Right?
PD: So that wasn't part of it. But just getting to know each other, we had talked about some people for Jacques. Dagur was figuring out his thing, and I certainly had good things to say about Brian.
Dagur, how, if at all, did L.I.E. inform your casting of Brian?
DK: I hadn't actually seen the movie. I'd seen Brian in a lot of movies -- often a small part in a big movie. But whenever he;s onscreen, I just want to see more. I almost get disappointed when his part is over. So it was great to be able to have him for an entire movie.
Of course, that was 10 years ago, and a lot has changed with both of you. How did having that experience -- combined with your experience in between -- affect your relationship on The Good Heart?
PD: I think it was just more as people -- the fact we'd been through something together. Trust, a good experience. That's often one of the things you come into when doing a film: You haven't met people, necessarily. Are you going to get along? Do I like this person? What's the vibe? How do they work? How do you work? You know. And things I might normally have to think about, I didn't have to think about at all. It makes you feel very comfortable to see someone you like who you know is a great actor I got along with. Then, it was a little more like a paternal figure, being I was 15 or 16. This time it was probably more of a friendship. It kind of felt like working with him for the first time.
PD: Yeah. Just because that was so long ago -- it was my first film. You know, it's just a different experience now for me. I wasn't going back in my head to those or anything that often.
Some of your best-known roles have come opposite some pretty strong personalities: Alan Arkin, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Kevin Kline will fit that bill in The Extra Man. What appeals to you about those relationships?
PD: I'm just a glutton for punishment. But yeah, it's just a turn-on for me when you read a script and there's two great parts. And as a young man, to get a chance to work with actors I look up to in some way or have learned something from or respect... that's just a turn-on. It's like, "Let me do that now, because before I know it I'll be f*ckin' old." Really, it's a great way to learn, and it makes my job a lot easier the better the other person is. I like that a lot. I really do. I get something out of it. It's just a turn-on.
And even if you're playing a mute, you're really holding your own. I feel like you're summoning a presence as much as a character. Does that cross your mind on set?
PD: You just always have to summon up what the character's going through. I don't ever think about it as, "Oh, I have to man up to Brian Cox in this scene." Maybe when you're in your apartment worrying about going to make this movie, you're like "Oh, sh*t." When you're on set, it's about the character -- what the script calls for. You step up to what the material and the character's asking of you.
I wanted to ask both of you about Lucas's physical condition. It seems like he's afflicted with something in his arms, in his step. What is it?
PD: I don't think so. I think he's just homeless.
DK: When we were shaping the character, Paul mentioned that he wanted to have some kind of animal aspect to the character. That sounded like a great idea, so in the film he's reducing his instincts to the basics; he's trying to be like an animal. I thought it was a great idea, but I really didn't want to know what kind of animal it was. It definitely brought a lot to character that he moved in this slightly unhuman way. It was never thought of as a physical handicap in any way. It was just his appearance.
PD: It was just part of his recession from this world that we live in, sort of associating himself with animals out of innocence. Honestly, to say anything more than that, I don't think either of us know.
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